Thursday, December 10, 2009

"It's a Process", Part 1

by Nichole Maier
foreword by John Sheaffer

Nichole is a dedicated trainee who trains primarily outside the walls of Greyskull in her home gym that she built after becoming increasingly frustrated at the "Y". She comes in for training once a week (schedule permitting) due to living out of state, and receives program and dietary feedback and support through email and those sessions. Her observations on strength training, body composition, and diet are always insightful, and it has been gratifying seeing her make progress and come to understand the intricacies of individualized needs in exercise and diet prescription. Look to see more installments in this series as she provides updates on progress through and towards her short and long term performance and aesthetic goals. Note: the dietary and training ideas discussed in this article are extraordinarily simple. Nichole's account of muscular bodyweight gain (she was a rail when she first arrived) and fast and simple fat loss reflects the ease in which one can achieve results and get to the right destination when they are following the right roads with the right directions. Stay tuned for part 2, it will be good. What Nichole is doing now diet wise is really cool, as is her training. (Ok, that last part was a blatant plug). Here's Nikki.....

Up until I began lifting barbells and following a dedicated strength training program, body image had been the sole focus of every workout I'd ever done. Sure, on some level I wanted to be a great athlete, but mostly I wanted to look hot. Over time, a lack of progress towards the body of my dreams led me to conclude that I am incapable of changing my body. Disturbingly most mainstream health and fitness information feeds that lie, making it sickeningly common. Everything from genetics, to time constraints, to aging has been blamed for our lack of control over the condition of our bodies. Deeming it a lost cause, many give up on their body image; I did too. I didn't really mean it, but I wanted to mean it and that made all the difference. And so, fueled by my disdain for the topic as a whole, I swore off any consideration for body image. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but this set me up perfectly for initial success in the journey towards greater strength.

The first several weeks of training brought great strength gains. My resolution to focus only on strength was paying off; already I was stronger than I had ever been. This was the first time in my life I had succeeded in the gym, and I was far from finished. When my progress started to stall (as it inevitably does) I turned to my coach - the one and only Johnny Pain - for answers. What more could I do? It was time to delve into the world of nutrition. He recommended a half-gallon of whole milk per day plus lots of meat. Not the lean kind of meat, either... the best choices of meat would come from the animals with the thickest necks (think cow). The extra calories (in particular, the miraculous blend of nutrients cleverly disguised as milk) would help me build the muscle I desperately needed. That was all I needed to hear; I headed straight for the Wawa and never looked back.

Armed with the confidence that only strength can bring, I ate with reckless abandon. I immediately blew past my previous sticking points and hit PR, after PR, after PR... a 50-pound deadlift PR instills confidence in the milk like nothing else! About six weeks into this “gaining” cycle, I competed in my first powerlifting meet. With my first official lifts under my belt, I paused to take in the moment. I was in awe of the progress I'd made in such a relatively small period of time, and I recognized that without the simple dietary additions of milk and meat, this rate of strength gain would not have been possible. I had arrived at a much-awaited turning point. The realization that my new found strength was the result of a carefully executed strategy allowed me, for the first time in a long time, to believe I was capable of changing my body. I had successfully escaped my obsession with body image and in the process, managed to reverse the longstanding misconception that I'm stuck with my body as it is. Confident and inspired, I was ready to take my training to the next level. Or so I thought...

The very next day following the powerlifting meet was the fitting appointment for my wedding dress. I hadn't tried the dress on in over nine months, yet in the last six weeks alone I had gained about ten pounds and outgrown the majority of my clothes, so I expected this fitting to be a grand disaster. To my surprise, the dress still fit. I was relieved... until I stepped up to the angled mirrors. For the first time in about three months, I was seeing my body from an aesthetic point of view. I saw some muscles, but I mainly saw fat – a lot of fat. The circumference of my wide hips seemed to have doubled, love handles had transformed my tapered waist into a big square block of pudge and, not to be forgotten, my belly was bigger than ever. Yikes! As it dawned on me that this chubby body was the same strong body I had been so proud of only 24 hours ago, a sinking feeling arose. What have I done? As if the dress wasn't bad enough, I thought of my bikini. Following the wedding, we'd spend a week in Punta Cana… could this body seriously be considered bikini worthy? Even I am not that naive.

The minute I got home I tried on my teeny bikini. I’ve never actually worn it because it’s, uh, teeny. I had planned on wearing it in Punta Cana because when else can you wear a teeny bikini if not on your honeymoon? Based on the body staring back at me in the mirror, this bikini wasn’t really appropriate to wear anywhere, honeymoon or not. Again the assembly of new additions paraded in front of my eyes; the hips, the love handles, the belly, and the cellulite were overwhelming. It all caught up with me at that moment – three months of ignoring my body image hit me smack in the face like a much deserved bitch slap. All the motivation I felt the day before had vanished and I felt hopeless.

The next day I explained the situation to my coach. I felt like such a hypocrite – not even 48 hours ago I said I wanted to take my training to the next level, and now here I was saying I wanted to lose fat. I felt ashamed to have such a superficial goal. Thankfully, my coach fully supported my decision to prioritize fat loss over strength gains in preparation for my wedding. He was surprisingly optimistic - this was not a big deal because fat loss is simple. My bad attitude bulked at that. Fat loss is simple? Since when? But as the conversation progressed, my doubt receded. Coach explained that changes to body composition can go both ways, and contrary to popular belief, it is just as simple either way. The major factor of my fat loss plan would be nutrition. The guidelines were simple: six small meals a day, each containing a palm-sized portion of lean protein (chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, etc) and 1-2 cups of veggies (preferably raw). The last meal before bed and up to two other meals each day can be substituted for Myoplex Lite, a delectable little meal replacement shake. My training would remain the same (basic barbell lifts three days a week) with the option to add a snatch-lunge barbell complex or sprints on up to two rest days per week. Coach said these additional workouts were optional because there’s no rush, four weeks is plenty of time for the kind of fat loss we were looking at. Again I was skeptical, but already in the back of my mind the bigger picture was beginning to develop: I have already done this. If I could gain muscle, I could lose fat.

The initial transition from a gaining cycle to a fat loss cycle was rough, but with my back against the wall I had no choice. Thankfully, I was quickly regaining perspective. Within the first week I was able to step back from my initial reaction and study the bigger picture. I realized there are some aspects of training you simply cannot ignore. Body image is one example. In my case, had I not been so determined to ignore my body image I might at least have seen this coming. I was now realizing that training is not a single action; rather, training is a process. When I began this journey several months ago, I wanted a stronger body. I never imagined that to get where I wanted to go I'd have to gain ten pounds of scale weight and then lose eight, arriving at a significantly lower bodyfat percentage than when I started. I never expected that in order to increase the amount of weight I can squat, I would decrease the weight (sometimes by a lot). I never guessed that fat loss hinged on something other than quality time with the elliptical. Yes, at first glance the process of training looks impractical and unnecessarily complicated, but I have come to learn that training done right is none of those things.

Post fat loss, I can confidently say that change is possible. I accomplished not only my overall goal to get stronger, but each of the smaller goals contributing to that process. The wedding dress fit perfectly and as for the teeny bikini, well, it was such a success that I bought three other hot bikinis to take with me! My journey towards greater strength continues (it will always continue), but this experience has taught me a valuable lesson; however important an individual goal may be, it is imperative not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Each step of the process has a purpose, and each is a valuable component of the end result.

Nichole on her Wedding Day

8 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Great article, Nikki. You are looking good and getting strong. life doesn't get much better than that. keep up the great work, YOU ROCK

Zarsky said...

Hail hail to the power of being strong instead of skinny fat.

Dean said...

Great article Nikki! I can identify with some of the points you made. I went from 225 to 265 in the matter of about 4 months and am holding steady at 265-268. You are totally right about not loosing sight of the bigger goal and that everything you do is part of the process. When you hit a wall like I have recently, it is important to remind yourself where you are relative to where you started. I am by no means close to my genetic potential and not breaking any records especially for a male that is 6'4" 265lbs, but I am a hell of a lot stronger than I was 6 months ago.

Now that my linear progression has slowed if not stopped, with John's help, I am now making the changes in nutrition necessary to lean out and support further progress in my lifts. Good luck with your training. You should stop by the garage on a Saturday. Good times

Birch said...

Some great points made here. Unlike most ladies who DO like their men strong, most guys DO NOT dig big strong women! Nikki, you're lucky here! That aside, strength does give us options we don't have when we're skinny, and it's good to have options. A tip for the males, acknowledge your female friends in the gym when they stick with a strength program. It takes way more patience and guts for a woman to do this. Our female friends don't get it and our male friends at best ignore us.

Nikki said...

"It takes way more patience and guts for a woman to do this. Our female friends don't get it and our male friends at best ignore us."

Birch - Well said! Its like a constant battle with the world. I try so hard to block it out, but it always finds a way to get through. The wedding dress felt like the never-ending losing battle. Everyone expected me to look super skinny (and to WANT to look super skinny) in my wedding dress. When it became clear that I was NOT going to be a complete stick, people resorted to talking about things like "how we can angle you in pictures". I will never understand what they find so offensive about a woman who is proud to have some muscle. The irony in all of this is that I'm still "skinny" by some standards... what will they say when I no longer fit into any definition of skinny??? Whatever - that's their problem, not mine.

Thanks for commenting, and hope you enjoyed the article. Keep fightin' the good fight. If we all refuse to quit, maybe the world will come around. :)

Nikki said...

@ Dean - First of all, congrats on your progress! Wasn't it your pictures that were posted a few months ago? Incredible!

"When you hit a wall like I have recently, it is important to remind yourself where you are relative to where you started."

Thanks to this comment, I revisited a few old videos of me squatting and deadlifting back in July when I first started training (right before I trained at Greyskull for the first time, actually). It is SHOCKING to see how much I struggled with those light weights - I warm up with those weights now! I think I ought to look back more often - it is just too easy to focus on how much farther I have to go, than how far I've come. Thanks for the idea!

@ Zarsky - HAIL, HAIL! :)

Hopefully one of these days I'll be able to train with all these awesome people I see on this site everyday. It is inspiring to see the numbers you all put up!

Keith said...

Awesome article. Way to go, Nikki. Keep it up.

Dean said...

This thread of comments would be great to add to the message board for all to share their training experiences. Although we all have different nutrition needs and different training goals, I think it would be a good forum to share ideas. Thanks again for posting this article Nikki!